FIFTY ringgit can be difficult to stretch especially for a fun Friday night out with friends.
From cover charges at clubs to exorbitant service taxes on fancy dinners, a typical night out whether with friends or as a couple can take a huge chunk of your salary.
I was determined to seek a reasonable alternative.
I trailed the crowded streets of Jalan Alor and Jalan Bukit Bintang in search of good food and great entertainment.
I was inspired by my friends Will Beale and Carmen May, who celebrated an unconventional Valentine’s Day at the famous and sometimes quite infamous street.
I recall Carmen raving about her amazing Valentine’s experience being serenaded by street performers while having ikan bakar, saying that it was so much more than she had bargained for.
Kickstarting my thrifty Friday night at 9pm, I was delighted to have a sumptuous dinner at W.A.W. (Wong Ah Wah) restaurant.
I was quite pleased to have only spent RM35 on a medium sized grilled sting ray accompanied with warm Chinese tea, at the shop situated in a prime location on the edge of Jalan Alor
During dinner, I was surprised by a street pedlar who came by my table and gave me a little bouquet of flowers.
“I wish you every happiness, good fortune and success in all that you do.
“You can give me anything you want, and I will still wish you the best,” said the Palestinian pedlar while persistently handing me the bouquet.
It took me a while to realise that Nahed, a Palestinian refugee living in KL for the past two years, had cleverly toyed with my emotions and got me to “purchase” the flower bouquet with his kind words.
Serenaded, or rather surrounded by live street singers belting out classics from Oasis and Guns N Roses, it occurred to me that these buskers perpetually live on a shoestring budget in KL.
In fact, it is their eccentric mannerisms that paint a colourful Kuala Lumpur.
For dessert, I stopped by Sangkaya Coconut Ice Cream stall situated directly opposite Beh’s Brothers Restaurant on Jalan Alor for artisanal coconut ice cream goodness.
The concoction of homemade coconut ice cream scoops garnished with fresh coconut pieces and any topping of your choice ranging from cereal and peanuts to attap chee, all placed in a real coconut husk cup is an absolute blissful experience for only RM7.90.
Walking around the block to Jalan Bukit Bintang, I watched disabled buskers wheeling themselves with a mobile speaker system entertaining couples with Mariah Carey ballads and families with classic Chinese ballads.
Walking down the decorated sidewalks of handicraft makers, I was particularly intrigued by a woman drawing henna art on the hands of a burqa-clad Arab customer.
Operating from a makeshift ironing board, the artist who declined to be named and photographed, said she received many Arab women customers who would proudly show off their elaborate henna designed hands despite having all else hidden.
“At RM10, I can bring out a part of your hidden beauty,” she said while carefully crafting a flower pattern on a customer’s hands.
Portrait artists and personalised keychain makers also litter the busy walkways selling their creations to tourists yearning for unique souvenirs.
“Thanks to DBKL’s free annual permit, I can make a living out of my artwork on this spot of Jalan Bukit Bintang every day,” said an artist who had a line of 12 customers waiting to purchase his hand-carved wooden keychains.
Amusing children and couples with his disappearing card tricks, self-taught street magician Hafizan makes about RM80 in one night from performing on the street corner.
“There is an art of asking. Some people are shy to come forward to tip me when there is a huge crowd, so they usually walk away and return later to drop a few coins into my hat,” said the 31-year-old full-time magician who is also a professional clown.
The shining star of Jalan Bukit Bintang had to be the mysterious woman who stands silently still covered in glittering gold paint luring the public to take photographs with her for RM2.
Aptly named “Gold Lady”, she situates herself next to the traffic light on the main junction of Bukit Bintang from 6.30pm to 12.30am daily.
“It takes two hours to put on the make-up and two hours to take it off,” she chuckled.
“People are very kind to me, that is why I am able to stand here every night for the past four years,” the single mother of three said, adding that her tips sometimes amounted to RM500 a night.
Dropping RM5 into her bucket, I am in awe of how these buskers creatively make use of their talents and unique skills to find an alternative source of income, and some make a living from the goodwill of passers-by.
Little do they realise their larger contribution towards a lively and memorable night out for visitors of Jalan Alor and Jalan Bukit Bintang, with their sights and sounds.
I end my night by joining the crowd cheering on Projek Rojak and Rock Legend band buskers like a mini concert.
Though there are still GST worries in the back of my mind, I am comforted by knowing that not only can we enjoy Kuala Lumpur on a shoestring budget, but that we are not alone in trying to do so.